Dear Beth Andrews:
Technically this had all the right elements of an interesting romance but I struggled to connect with the hero. Maddie Montesano got pregnant when she was sixteen with Neil Pettit’s baby. Neil didn’t want a child. He wanted to pursue a hockey career. His dreams came true and Maddie stayed in Shady Grove, joining her family’s construction business and raising her daughter. Neil came and went, missing birthdays and holidays, and basically being a shitty dad.
After winning the Stanley Cup, he returns home to do his obligatory duty visit with his 12 year old daughter and help his sister get back on her feet. Unfortunately he finds his daughter hates him and his sister in the midst of a deep depression, one that Neil doesn’t want to acknowledge.
Neil avoids believing that anyone has a serious emotional problem; perhaps in part because he was able to set aside all distractions and make himself into an elite pro athlete but also because he does not want to take on any responsibility of being tied to any one particular person even if it is his daughter or sister.
He is frustrated with his daughter’s unhealthy weight and believes that his sister’s depression will just evaporate with time. He’d really just like to fix everything and move on but no one is complying with his wishes. It was sad to see Neil stand by and watch others criticize his daughter’s weight, not realizing the pain it was causing her.
Maddie’s character was portrayed as a bit of a sad sack too. Her love for him led her to make harmful decisions for her, for him, and ultimately for the child that was created. I wished she had moved on from Neil. If a guy you love doesn’t return your feelings after 12 years, it seems really self destructive to continue to pine after him, wish he would change, and resent him for not being the perfect man you want him to be. Maddie’s entire purpose seems to be giving Neil the finger which prompts Neil to ask “Don’t you ever get tired of being so angry at me?”
I wasn’t sure why Neil wanted to avoid his home and family that much and I didn’t really understand why Maddie wouldn’t let the fire of her feelings for Neil to die. I also didn’t understand why Maddie felt so hurt by Neil’s abandonment. Yes, at the age of 16, I could understand it but not at the age of 28, particularly considering Maddie’s own actions. But what confounded me the most was the lust between Neil and Maddie. It felt phony to me. If they disliked each other so much why not just move on?
What I did like was the supportive family that Maddie had and how the issue of childhood obesity was touched on. It’s a difficult issue and I thought that it was portrayed realistically – from the well meaning grandmother who was always criticizing the young girl’s eating habits to the mother who believed that it was just a phase to the young girl herself who was beset with image issues and starting to believe that her value rested on her appearance, particularly when it came to earning her father’s love.